Connect with us

Europe

Britain and EU poised to announce Christmas Eve Brexit deal

Published

on


Britain and the EU were last night finalising a historic post-Brexit deal that will define their future trading relationship, reducing the risk of the UK crashing chaotically out of the European single market on January 1.

Boris Johnson, UK prime minister, is expected to confirm the deal early on Christmas Eve after a flurry of last-minute talks in Brussels, bringing an end to nine months of tense negotiations.

EU and UK officials worked through Wednesday night to finalise the legal text, which will preserve tariff-free trade in goods between the EU and UK as well as protect co-operation in other areas such as security.

People briefed on the talks said that the ongoing work included fine-tuning the details of agreements struck on Wednesday on EU fishing rights in UK waters. But officials on both sides said the terms of the post-Brexit relationship were essentially settled.

Eric Mamer, the European Commission’s chief spokesperson, wrote on Twitter early on Thursday morning that “Brexit work will continue throughout the night”.

“Grabbing some sleep is recommended to all Brexit-watchers at this point. It will hopefully be an early start tomorrow morning,” he wrote.

The path to a deal opened up after Ursula von der Leyen, commission president, and Mr Johnson took personal control of the negotiations this week, with fishing access the last major sticking point.

The deal will preserve tariff-free EU-UK trade for goods. It will also cover issues such as police and security co-operation and preserve the cross-border energy market, but it will do little for the services sector.

A member of the British delegation ferries food for Brexit meetings outside the UK mission to the EU in Brussels © AP

Although the agreement is often described as a “thin” trade deal, it will provide a legal platform upon which the two sides can rebuild relations more than four years after the trauma of the 2016 Brexit vote.

The final days of negotiations were dominated by discussions over the fate of the EU’s fishing rights in UK waters, currently worth about €650m per year.

According to people briefed on the talks, the deal includes a transition period of five-and-a-half years during which EU boats will have guaranteed access to UK fishing waters. The EU’s fishing rights will be reduced by 25 per cent compared to now, with the knock-on effect of boosting how much British boats can catch.

British officials say the deal is expected to see Britain’s share of the catch in its own waters increase from around a half today to about two-thirds during the transition.

Access to waters after the transition period expires — around the tenth anniversary of the June 2016 Brexit vote — will depend on regular negotiations.

Alongside fish, another key sticking point during the future-relationship negotiation was the EU’s demand for guarantees of fair competition for its companies.

The two side’s draft deal includes a new arbitration mechanism intended to ensure a “level playing field” between the two sides, with provision for sanctions in the form of tariffs if either side seriously undercuts the other’s regulations in areas such as environmental protection.

Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator David Frost leaves the UK ambassador’s residence in Brussels on Wednesday © AP

Mr Johnson claims that this mechanism will provide both sides with a legal framework to diverge — Downing Street has already dubbed it “the freedom clause” — while the EU will argue that it can protect its market from unfair competition should the UK embark on a so-called “Singapore-on-Thames” route.

One eleventh-hour issue was the trade rules for electric cars: Britain claimed it had won concessions to make it possible for electric cars to be traded tariff-free even if a relatively high proportion of their components came from outside the EU and UK.

The issue is of key importance to Toyota and Nissan: last year, Nissan sold more than 30,000 UK-built Leaf electric cars to Europe, while Toyota exported close to 120,000 hybrid models across the Channel.

There will now be a rush to approve the agreement before Britain’s transition period ends on January 1. British MPs have been told to expect to hold an emergency session of the Commons on December 30.

The European Parliament has already said that it will not vote before the end of the year. But Brussels has the option of provisionally applying the deal until MEPs vote on it in 2021.

The trade deal will soften the economic edges of Brexit, but trade between the two sides will still be hit by a huge amount of new paperwork and border checks following Mr Johnson’s decision to take Britain out of the single market and customs union.

Covid-19 and the end of the UK’s transition period mean that considerable disruption at ports on January 1 remains likely, but most MPs and economists agree that a free trade agreement — even a relatively modest one — will help ensure a bad situation is not made far worse.

Sterling jumped against the dollar and the euro on Wednesday, advancing 1.2 per cent on Wednesday to $1.3515 against the dollar and 0.8 per cent against the euro to €1.107.





Source link

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Europe

CDU leadership backs Armin Laschet’s bid to be German chancellor

Published

on

By


Armin Laschet won a key victory in his campaign to succeed Angela Merkel when the party he leads, the Christian Democratic Union, backed him as their candidate for chancellor in September’s Bundestag election.

The CDU governing executive’s decision to back Laschet was a setback for Markus Söder, governor of Bavaria, who has also laid claim to the title.

The move was expected, but could prove controversial. Söder is by far the more popular politician, and many CDU MPs had argued in recent days that the party would have a much better chance of winning September’s election with Söder as their candidate.

After throwing his hat into the ring on Sunday, Söder said he would accept the CDU’s decision. However, it is still unclear whether his party, the Bavarian Christian Social Union, will accept Laschet as the CDU/CSU’s joint candidate. The CSU’s executive is meeting later on Monday.

Sunday’s events threw the process for finding a successor to Merkel, who will step down this year after 16 years as Germany’s leader, into confusion. The CDU and CSU traditionally field a joint candidate for chancellor: that person is usually the leader of the CDU, which is by far the larger party.

Volker Bouffier, governor of the western state of Hesse, said the CDU’s executive had unanimously backed Laschet at a meeting in Berlin on Monday morning. He added, however, that no formal decision had been made on the issue.

Bouffier said the executive had made clear “that we consider [Laschet] exceptionally well-suited and asked him to discuss together with Markus Söder how we proceed”. He added that “the current polls should not determine the decision over [who we choose as] candidate”.

Since Laschet was elected CDU leader in January, the party has suffered a precipitous slump in the polls and that created an opening for Söder. He has frequently argued that the CDU/CSU’s joint candidate should be the politician with the best chances of winning in September.

Voters have blamed the CDU for the government’s recent missteps in its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, in particular the slow pace of Covid-19 vaccinations. Revelations that a number of CDU and CSU MPs earned huge commissions on deals to procure face masks also badly damaged the party’s image.

The malaise in the CDU was highlighted last month when it slumped to its worst ever election results in the two states of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, which for decades had been Christian Democrat strongholds. National polls currently put support for the CDU/CSU at between 26 per cent and 28 per cent, way down on the 33 per cent it garnered in the last Bundestag election in 2017.

There was more bad news at the weekend for Laschet, who as well as being CDU leader is also prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state. A poll for broadcaster WDR in NRW found that only 26 per cent of voters in the state are satisfied with the work of the regional government Laschet leads and only 24 per cent of voters consider him a suitable candidate for chancellor.

The slide in the CDU’s fortunes contrasts with the rise of the Greens. The party garnered 8.9 per cent of the vote in 2017 and is now polling at 23 per cent. It is seen as a racing certainty that it will be part of Germany’s next government.



Source link

Continue Reading

Europe

EU and UK edge towards accord on trade rules for Northern Ireland

Published

on

By


The UK and the EU are making progress in talks on how to apply post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland, raising hopes of an agreement that could help reduce tensions that have spilled over into violence on the streets of Belfast.

Officials on both sides said that recent days of intensive contacts had given cause for optimism that the UK and EU can craft a “work plan” on how to implement the Northern Ireland protocol, which sets the post-Brexit terms for goods to flow between the region and Great Britain. EU Brexit commissioner Maros Sefcovic and his UK counterpart David Frost may meet to review progress this week. 

“They are advancing on a technical level and probably we will see a [Frost-Sefcovic] meeting rather sooner than later”, said one EU diplomat, while cautioning progress depended on firm commitments from the UK and its “unequivocal support” for the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

Other EU diplomats and officials said strong UK engagement in the technical talks on implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol had raised hopes that an understanding could be reached. 

“The mood seems to have warmed up a bit — the tone of the discussions is quite good,” said one British official. 

The talks are a follow up to a draft plan about implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol that was submitted by the UK to Brussels at the end of last month — a step the EU said was essential to rebuilding trust after Britain unilaterally extended waivers for traders from some aspects of the rules in March. This move prompted EU legal action.

The discussions between British and EU officials in recent days have taken place against the backdrop of violence in Northern Ireland, stoked in part by resentment within the unionist community at how the protocol treats their region differently to the rest of the UK.

From April 2 there were eight consecutive nights of unrest in Northern Ireland, involving both unionist and nationalist areas. The police responded by deploying water cannons for the first time in six years.

The Brexit deal placed a trade border down the Irish Sea in order to keep commerce seamless on the island of Ireland. The Northern Ireland protocol requires customs and food safety checks for goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

Officials said the EU-UK talks now under way about implementation of the protocol cover a wide array of practical issues ranging from trade in steel and medicines to the policing of food safety standards, how to deal with residual soil on plant bulbs, and the construction of border inspection posts. 

“Technical talks are ongoing”, said an EU official. “Depending on the progress made at technical level, a political-level meeting may be held soon.”

But EU diplomats and officials also cautioned that more work remains to be done, especially on the thorny issue of applying food safety checks. Difficult talks also lie ahead on the timetable for putting particular measures in place.

Meanwhile Downing Street played down a report in The Observer that it was resisting proposals by Dublin for a special crisis summit to address the outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland.

“We have not refused anything,” said a Number 10 official. “It’s something we will consider.”

However there are concerns on the British side about the wisdom of holding a summit in Northern Ireland with Irish government ministers at a time when pro-UK loyalist groups have been engaged in street violence.

Irish officials said taoiseach Micheál Martin and British prime minister Boris Johnson have spoken and would “maintain close contact over coming days”.



Source link

Continue Reading

Europe

France to offer mRNA jabs as second dose after AstraZeneca 

Published

on

By


France has become the second country after Germany to recommend that younger people who have had a first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine be given a different jab for their follow-up shot.

The mixed-dose approach has been recommended by health experts in both countries — despite there being little clinical trial data to support it — because of the slim risk that younger people can develop blood clots when given the AstraZeneca jab.

The World Health Organization reiterated its position on Friday that there was “no data on interchangeability of vaccine platforms”, noting further research was needed.

The move comes as the European Medicines Agency said it is also probing a possible link between the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and four serious cases of unusual blood clots in the US, where it is currently being rolled out. It is not yet being distributed in the EU or UK. The vaccine is based on an adenovirus vector, similar to the AstraZeneca shot.

The EMA said it was not yet clear whether there was a causal link. J&J said it is working with experts and regulators to assess the data. “Our close tracking of side effects has revealed a small number of very rare events following vaccination,” it said. “At present, no clear causal relationship has been established.” 

In France, the policy will affect roughly 530,000 people under age 55 who were given a first shot of AstraZeneca from early February to mid-March when they were eligible under its strategy of giving healthcare workers the vaccine, while reserving the mRNA vaccines for elderly people most at risk.

The Haute Autorité de Santé, a panel of medical experts which advises the government, has said they should be given booster shots from BioNTech/Pfizer or Moderna. France has changed course to use AstraZeneca only in people aged above 55 since the blood clot issue emerged.

France announced its decision on Friday after the HAS recommended the mixed-dose strategy. Germany took a similar stance in early April. 

Health minister Olivier Véran told RTL radio on Friday that the mixed-dose approach was “totally logical” given the analysis of European regulators and France’s desire to continue its vaccination campaign as the scientific evidence evolved.

European countries, whose vaccination campaigns have been slower than world leaders such as the US, Israel, and the UK, have been grappling with how to use AstraZeneca doses since the blood clot reports emerged, with some countries applying new age restrictions and others pausing its use entirely.

But with Covid-19 still spreading, officials are also seeking to reassure people that the AstraZeneca vaccine’s benefits still largely outweigh the risks. 

The European Medicines Agency recently established that there was a “possible link” between the AstraZeneca vaccine and unusual blood clots with low blood platelets that have mostly affected women under 60 years old, though regulators have said there is no specific risk factor by gender.

The EMA said it had examined at least 86 such reported cases and 16 deaths, and recommended updating the vaccine’s safety information to list the clots as a possible side effect.

Élisabeth Bouvet, a vaccine expert and member of the HAS, said on Friday that the mixed-dose approach was a practical solution intended to protect younger people, who are at lower risk of developing severe forms of Covid-19, from the risk of blood clotting side effects. “It is really a choice based on safety,” she said.

“Given that the protection of the Covid-19 vaccines begins to diminish after three months, these people need an additional dose,” she added. “The idea is to give mRNA vaccine as a second dose for this population in a ‘prime-boost’ strategy.”

Even in the absence of clinical data, Bouvet said that they believed the approach carried low risks of side effects and was likely to offer people additional protection given that the Covid-19 vaccines all aim at the same spike protein on the coronavirus.

“We think that this approach will work,” she said. “There is no reason to expect any particular side effects with mixed dosing but it would be good to study the immune response it creates.” 

Peter English, a retired Public Health England consultant in communicable disease control, said it was “reasonable” to use other vaccines, particularly in younger patients, until the risk of blood clots caused by the AstraZeneca vaccine has been clarified.

“If we are to achieve vaccine-induced herd immunity [not just through masks and social distancing] a high uptake of vaccination will be required in the groups most likely to spread the virus, not just in those most at risk if infected,” he said, noting vaccine mixing and matching has been done for other diseases. 

Trials studying a combination of vaccines, including AstraZeneca’s and Russia’s Sputnik V shots, are under way.



Source link

Continue Reading

Trending